Welcome back to the What I Used for Inktober series! Last week, we looked at the Prismacolor Premier 0.005 black pen for inking, and today we’re looking at Tombow Dual-Brush Pens. Which means we’re at my favorite part: Coloring! \(^o^)/
Last year, I wanted to try coloring with markers after seeing so many amazing marker paintings on the Web and so many amazing speedpaints on Youtube. As a beginner, though, I didn’t want to heavily invest in a huge set of markers or purchase the most expensive professional materials (looking at you, Copics!) – or not yet, at least. So I chose to try the water-based Tombow Dual-Brush Pens after hearing that they are a good brand and (luckily) were on sale at the time. Better yet, they were reported to be durable, self-cleaning, and even blend well. Sounds good, right?
Long story short, yes, they’re great! I like them a lot, though I’m also using other brands these days. Tombow markers do have a few downsides, mainly due to the nature of water-based markers; but the water-based vs alcohol-based debate is a post for another day. Let’s get started!
This review turned out super long, so here’s the short version!
Tombow Dual-Brush Pens are a good introductory marker. There are a wide range of colors available, and I love, love, love the self-cleaning feature! Also, being water-based they don’t smell strongly like alchohol-based markers; so if strong smells bother you, you can rest easy with these. 🙂
However, Tombow markers will pill and ripple the paper if you lay down too much pigment, a common problem among water-based markers; though it isn’t as bad as the Crayolas I used when I was a kid, it’s still annoying. And while the blending feature is cool, Tombow markers don’t blend well on paper. 😦
I would recommend them for sketching, lettering, and for simpler coloring styles (like cell-shading, perhaps).
- Self-cleaning tips
- Wide range of colors available
- Cool blending feature
- Doesn’t have a strong smell – like alcohol does
- Pills the paper
- If you use a lot of wet-on-wet layering, the paper will ripple
- Doesn’t blend well with color on paper
- Prices tend to vary widely from $10-$25 USD per 10-pack
Now let’s get into the in-depth review!
The Packaging & Design
Tombow markers come in a pack like this, with nine colors and a colorless blender:
As the name says, the pens are dual-brush: They come with both a flexible brush tip and a fine tip:
This design makes these pens very versatile! The brush pen is perfect for lettering, filling large areas, and blending colors:
The brush tips are also durable, so you can bend, twist, and otherwise abuse them and yet they spring back into shape!
Can you tell how far the brush tip is bent in the picture above? It looks alarming, but it doesn’t hurt the marker at all. And you can bend it further than this with no issues.
The fine tip is great for inking / outlining; the only thing to note is that as these markers are water-based, coloring over an inked image with other water-based markers will cause it to bleed slightly. Here’s what the fine line looks like:
I also wanted to mention this cool design feature:
The large caps have a little ridge that keeps the markers from rolling around! Very useful.
Now let’s take a look at the markers that came with the Grayscale Palette:
It’s a little hard to read the numbers in the picture, I know! The colors included in the Grayscale Palette are listed below. (The numbers are the official Tombow reference numbers, while the descriptive text in parentheses are my own interpretation of the color for clarity.)
- N00 (Colorless Blender)
- N95 (Lightest Lavender)
- N89 (Light Warm Gray – almost a light beige)
- N75 (Light Lavender)
- N65 (Warm Gray)
- N60 (Purple-Gray / Lavender)
- N55 (Dark Warm Gray)
- N45 (Dark Cool Gray)
- N25 (Charcoal)
- N15 (Black)
The Grayscale Palette includes both warm tones (N25, N55, N65, N89) and cool tones (N45, N60, N75, N95), making this palette very versatile. 😀
I’ve found that the colors of the caps are fairly accurate about 2/3 of the time. Even for the markers where the shade is different than the cap indicates, it gives you a good idea of the color’s value and tone. For example:
From top to bottom: N15, N25, N45, N55, N60, N65, and N75.
From top to bottom: N89, N95, and N00 (colorless blender).
(Please note that these color tests are not quite the same as the in-person colors due to the lighting. They may also look slightly different on your screen. So while they’ll give you an idea of the colors, take ’em with a grain of salt!)
As you can see in the color tests above, the caps give you a good indication of the marker’s shade, but aren’t always exact. So it’s important to always test your markers before coloring! That way, you’re always sure of the shade. 🙂
I’ve used the Grayscale Palette for several pictures, mostly during last Inktober; and while I am no master of markers yet, I have figured out a few things during the 10+ hours I’ve spent with them.
First, I like the look of laying down two to three layers of color in a color block. Except for N15, which is a dense black, seam lines appear anywhere two lines meet. Going over the area with another layer helps to eliminate that effect. For example, you can still see darker seam lines in the picture above, but trust me when I say they are about 5x less visible with only one layer of color!
When shading, try to keep the dark and light colors within the same warm / cool color group. I’ve run into issues using, say, N95 (Lightest Lavender) over N55 (Dark Warm Gray). I’m not saying to only use warm or cool tones in a drawing (though that would be cool too), but rather, keep the color group in mind when shading a specific area (example: River’s vest in the picture above). This is one of those things that’s obvious – in hindsight, haha.
Finally, I’ve noticed that with my heavier 50-70lb papers, the Tombow markers don’t bleed through even with many, very wet, layers of colors! The paper will ripple before it bleeds. It seems that the pigment is inclined to stay on the surface of the paper, even if the water seeps through. For example:
Here’s the back of the painting in my sketchbook, along with the next page (the eraser test for the Caran d’Ache blue pencil review). There are a few places where the color is distinct, as if it’s begun to bleed through, and yet there are no marks on the next page! A definite plus.
Blending with Tombow Dual-Brush Pens
One of the awesome things about Tombow Dual-Brush Pens is the blending feature! “But River, didn’t you mention earlier that they don’t blend well on paper?” Well, yes, that is true. However, there is a way to blend colors with the Tombow Markers: picking up a darker shade with the brush tip! We’ll take a look at that in a minute, but first, let’s take a look at the blending performance:
What are we looking at? From top to bottom:
- Using colors N25 (left) and N65, attempted to blend the colors on paper. First, I laid down a block of N25; then colored over it while it was still wet with N65. Looks good, right? Well, unfortunately, the block of midtone in the middle is actually a second layer of N65! I usually forget to blend on the brush tip, so this is how I shade!
- Same method, without the second layer of N65 in the middle. So there’s one layer of N25 on the left, then colored over with a single layer of N65 while wet.
- Using colors N25 and N00 (colorless blender), attempted to blend the colors on paper. Like example 1, first I laid down N25 then colored over it with N00. There’s a slight blurry line where the N25 bled, but it’s not very well blended. This would be good for softening the edges of a line or color block, to give a slightly hazy effect.
- Again using N25 and N00, I picked up some N25 pigment with the N00 marker and then colored on the paper. This can truly be called a “blended” effect! Or perhaps “gradient” would be better. This is good for shading small areas, and gives a lovely effect on lettering!
Now, you may be asking, “How do I get the effect in the 4th example?” If so, I’ve included a short tutorial. 😀 (Or maybe you already know how, in which case, feel free to skip ahead.)
Tutorial: Blending and Gradients with Tombow Dual-Brush Pens
First, pick out the darker and lighter shades. In this case, I’ll use N25 and N00, for a dramatic effect. Then dispense some of the darker shade onto a palette, like so:
Dispensing the Darker Color
Then, pick up some of the darker pigment from the palette with the lighter color:
Picking Up the Color
Don’t worry, the tip isn’t stained! Tombow markers are self-cleaning, so the N00 will bleed off the color as you work until only the colorless blender is coming out. Cool, huh? Now you’ll have a gradient effect:
I picked up a lot of pigment in these pictures, so it was a nice, gradual gradient. Try picking up more and less color to get longer or shorter gradients!
After the darker pigment runs out, the tip will look like this:
Nice and clean again!
Honestly, the self-cleaning nature of the pens is my favorite part of using Tombow. Even if you accidentally brush against a different color, the tip isn’t stained; it’ll clean up with a few strokes on scrap paper! I just love it. ❤️
As I said in the TL;DR version, the Tombow Dual-Brush Pens are a great introductory marker. The few cons (will pill the paper, don’t blend well on paper) are just annoyances really, and the many pros speak for themselves. I especially love the self-cleaning feature! They work well with lettering, sketching, and simple coloring styles. I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to try a new brand of water-based markers.
See you all next week with the fourth and (for now) final installment of this series: Sakura Gelly Roll Pens!